“Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, sir; but for that I ask you not to beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”
— Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Herman Melville*
For context, this week’s epigraph comes from late in the book when First Mate Starbuck tells Captain Ahab that Ahab creates all of Ahab’s problems while the captain holds a loaded musket to the mate’s chest. Starbuck approached Ahab to ask the captain to issue the order to anchor the Pequod and find a leaking barrel of whale oil in the hold. Without ever mentioning a certain white whale, Ahab rants about oil representing the absolutely last reason for the present voyage, brandishes the musket, chases Starbuck away, and, then, orders the ship to stand-to while the crew empties the hold and repairs barrels.
Anyone who follows U.S. politics in 2017 and has completed fourth grade gets one guess as to the identity of Ahab in this allegory. A trickier question exists regarding what Donald Trump views as his ultimate prize — self-respect, unchecked authority, broad popularity, undoing all of Obama’s accomplishments, having so many people yelling at him that he briefly stops hearing the demented voices in his own head? All the above and two scoops of ice cream with his slice of pie for dessert?
The allegory of one man destroying all in pursuit of the pointless and the unachievable does not hold in full, however, Ahab, at the end of chapter 109 out of 135, could still snap himself out monomania long enough to recognize and implement a good idea proposed by a subordinate. Your humble WPT host sees no signs that Trump remains tethered to any real-world considerations.
So, again, what does Trump want? We know what he does. We know what he has attempted only to have courts or Congress defang the worst of the public policy proposals. We can only shudder to contemplate the ideas that never make it to a reporter’s keyboard. But, why?
Uvular offers this theory: Trump sucks and goes of his way to suck.***
The unfavored second son until his older brother took himself out of Fred Trump Sr.’s line of succession to lord over a real estate empire built on providing substandard and overpriced apartments to white recipients of federal housing vouchers, Trump decided early that even negative attention constituted its own reward. Lacking any particular intelligence beyond how to cheat those greedier and stupider than he, Trump long ago figured he had no choice but to approach every human interaction as a grift. Spending so long viewing every other person as a mark or a servant, he lost the ability to develop or show empathy. Noting that displays of anger and bigotry garnered him unironic and nontransactional praise from angry, bigoted people, he gave himself wholly over to the darker side of his already damaged psyche. Now, Trump surely suffers from dementia, which makes even the saintliest person quick to lash out and intemperate in all habits.
Add all that together and you get one of the suckiest people who ever sucked. And, Lord knows. we’ve all seen some sucks in our time.
As Trump hunts his white whale, all people subject to the whims of a U.S. president — which amounts to every living person — assumes the role of one of the unnamed whales slaughtered without even cursory concern for the worth of their humanity. With oil equating to humanity and all that extended metaphor jazz.
The moral consists entirely in the admonition, “Don’t suck.” Uvular has faith that you won’t as you comment below.
*It took three years of starts and stops, along with devoting pretty much each waking moment yesterday to the project, but Uvular has finally read all of Moby-Dick. The internet really led him to expect more hot seaman-on-cetacean action.
**At the risk of spoiling a 166-year-old pinnacle of achievement in American novel-writing, Ahab destroys himself, his ship, and all but one person in his crew. Consider plugging the leak his last sane act.
***In the metaphorical sense rather than the This Ain’t Mob-Dick porn “parody” sense.